Monday, January 17, 2011

Hegel on the higher criticism

"The third form of reflective history is the critical.  This deserves mention as preeminently the mode of treating history now current in Germany.  It is not history itself that is here presented.  We might more properly designate it as a history of history; a criticism of historical narratives and an investigation of their truth and credibility.  Its peculiarity, in point of fact and of intention, consists in the acuteness with which the writer extorts something from the records which was not in the matters recorded.  The French have given us much that is profound and judicious in this class of composition, but they have not endeavored to pass a merely critical procedure for substantial history. . . . Among us, the so-called 'higher criticism,' which reigns supreme in the domain of philology, has also taken possession of our historical literature.  This 'higher criticism' has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest.  Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history."

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The philosophy of history, trans. J. Sibree, Introduction ii (Great Books of the Western World, 2nd ed. (1990), vol. 43, p. 162).

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